Swachchakar Dignity

A blog to give you first hand reports on the conditions of Swachchkar community, their issues and concerns. A campaign for complete abolition of scavenging practices and brigning forth the growing voices of change with in the community.

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Learning through working. Working at the grassroots made me realise the big difference between those who claim to represent communities as well as the communities themselves. Common man is crushed between the ambitions of various individuals to lead and dominate. The dominant and high numbered communities will always dominate our discourse and the most marginalised are losing in this entire discourse. That is the reason why Mushahar remain at the marginalised and the issue of manual scavenging still not on our top agenda and to eliminate that the community has to decide its own organisations..

I am devoted to freedom of ideas and expression. I personally feel that we in the subcontinent want to dominate and control our discourse and each one of is a ultra nationalist in terms of their caste and community. Nationalism is not just national and political but it is equally in term of religion and caste. I feel each kind of nationalism is a dominant discourse which deny the dissenter a right to speak.

At the end, we all want to listen the truth suitable to us.. we have become expertised in the art of speaking truth of convenience. As long as that remain hall mark of our society and we speak to already converts, this society will remain stagnant, it will always try to control our ideas and choices. We need to oppose any such perception, ideas that want to control our mind and victimise us.

To understand India further, I feel, it is good to do foot walk, ( Padyatras) to various parts of the country. I have so far done it thrice covering nearly 1500-2000 kilometers. It is always interesting to see how people are coping their issues and what is the reason of their exploitation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Response to Frontline coverstory on Scavenging

India’s Shame: Some unanswered questions from the Frontline reports

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Gandhi and scavenging

Frontline magazine’s September 22nd, 2006 issue gave wide coverage to the issue of
scavengers in India including one famous quote of Gandhi’. ‘I may not be born again, but
if it happens, I will like to be born into a family of scavengers, so that I may relieve, them
if the inhuman, unhealthy and hateful practice of carrying nightsoil.’ It is rather strange
that Gandhi is often quoted by the upper caste to justify their stand and prove a certain
point because in their own wisdom, there was no one else except Gandhi who fought
against the cause of untouchability. It is another matter that none of them ever questioned
Gandhi and his various act of idiocies. Above quote clearly means that Gandhi fully
believed that untouchability is not going to finish and he would have to take another birth
to get rid of it.

Ofcourse, Gandhi was right that such heinous practice would not end but untouchables or
Dalits perhaps do not need Gandhi’s sage advice to end scavenging. They are powerful
enough to lead the movements as the story of frontline clearly reflect. In fact, Frontline
would have researched a bit more and look Gandhi’s writing in the various issues of
Harijan, on the issue of untouchability, whether he really was interested in the eradication
of untouchability or supported the caste system. Dr Bhagwan Das, eminent Ambedkarite
and scholar has time and again said that Gandhi was least interested in the emancipation
of the Dalits in general and scavengers in particular. He quotes on many occasions how
Gandhi justified the caste-based profession of the Dalits. Said Gandhi :

“ I do not advice untouchables to give up their trades and professions. One born a
scavenger must earn his livelihood by being a scavenger and then do whatever else he
likes. For a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your president. That
according to me is Hinduism. ( Harijan 6th March, 1937)

Further, Gandhi might have said that he would like to be born in the untouchable family
yet he was no revolutionary to condemn the caste system. Even in Africa, he was not at
all fighting for the rights of the black Africans but the caste Hindus who feel offended at
clubbing together with the black community in Africa or elsewhere. Says Gandhi :

“My Opinion against sweepers strike dates back to about 1897 when I was in Durban. A
general strike was mooted there and the question arose as to whether scavengers should
join it. My vote was registered against the strike proposal.,,,, In spite of my close
attachments to sweepers, better cause of it, I must denounce the coercive method they
are said to have employed. They will thereby be losers in the long run. City folks will not
always be cowed down. A bhangi may not give up his work even for a day. ( Harijan 21st
April 1946)”

Mr Bhagwan Das has referred this narrative many times how Gandhi was against the
strike of the sweeper and every time he gave them moral lessons of Varna Ashram
Dharma. That way, Gandhi damaged the cause of the emancipation of Dalits with his
brutal immoral morality.

Unfortunately, upper caste Indian’s fascination for a ‘spiritual guide’ always helped
Gandhi and his theatrics. Not many of them were ready to challenge his ‘stupid’ values
and caste based morality. The one who stood firmly and with conviction was Dr Baba
Saheb Ambedkar. Not only his questioned Gandhi’s Mahatmaisation by terming
‘Mahatmas have come and gone’ but also putting forward the issue of caste system and
untouchability together. Had Gandhi been alive today, Indians would have felt shame on
his rhetoric’s and antics. Ambedkar rightly described what exactly is scavenger in his
thought provoking volume-9 ( Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches, Volume-
9, published by Government of Maharastra),

“For in India a man is not scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of
his birth, irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not. If Gandhism
preached that scavenging is a noble profession, with the objective of inducing those who
refuse to engage in it, one could understand it. But why appeal to the scavenger’s pride
and vanity in order to induce him and him only to keep on to scavenging by telling him
that scavenging is a noble profession and that he need not to be ashamed of it. To preach
that poverty is good for shudra and for none else, to preach that scavenging is good for
the untouchables and for none else and to make them accept these onerous impositions as
voluntary purposes of life, by appeal to their failings is an outrage and a cruel joke on
the helpless classes which none but Mr Gandhi can perpetuate with equanimity and

Strangely, there is no mention of the any other political leaders other than the ‘father of
nation’ in the front line report including Dr Ambedkar, Mangu Ram, Achhutananda and
others. While the report revolve around Safai Karmchari Andolan led by Baizwada
Wilson and the wonderful work he has been doing. The interview carried belong to
Martin Macwan and his much known work of Navsarjan. Respectable as they are after
fighting their own cases of social discrimination, both have valiantly tried to build a new
alternative for the scavenger communities. Yet, the struggle for human rights and dignity
for the scavenger communities continues for long. It is not that all those who have
converted to Christianity want justice and dignity. It is not that all those who have not
converted remain ‘Hindus’ as some of our friends would like us to believe. The fact is
that most of those who remain Dalits ( unconverted) have remain the most vocal critique
of the brahmanical system. Perhaps, there is a complete lack of politicization after
conversion. There are a large number of new movements building up in the Balmiki
community, among the Madigas in Andhra and Arundhatiars in Tamilnadu. Balmikis in
Uttar-Pradesh, Punjab and Harayana have also taken up their cause. They might not have
converted to either Islam or Christianity, they might not have got enough press behind
them or the funds yet there is a fair concern about the community. The new youngs are
ready to take on the Hindu social order and the corrupt practices. It is therefore important
to unite all these movements and not divide them on caste and religion lines. It would
have been really better if the authors had done some more work and spoken to political
movements in other states including West Bengal where the Balmikis want the outsiders
to come and report. But without going there the authors gave a clean chit to West Bengal
is a matter of grave concern.

Bigger Shame for giving clean chit to West Bengal

While it is appreciating for the magazine to have our website address
For the material available on Balmiki. As a human right activist, who have been working
on the issue of the Dalit rights, Ambedkarism, human rights education as well as a person
who has recorded interviews with this community, it would have been better had the
authors tried to contact me. I would have provided them more material on the
community, my film Badlav Ki chah, which could have thrown some light on what the
community is thinking. Moreover, for the past four years, I have continuously followed
the case of the Eviction of the Balmiki community from the Bellilius Park in West
Bengal. I have visited Kolkata, Howrah on many occasions and lived with the community
to find out what pains them. It is strange and shocking that your cover story has given a
full clean chit to the government of West Bengal.

The condition of the Hindi Speaking Dalits in West Bengal is a matter of great concern.
Those who wish to note more about scavengers and their conditions in various parts of
the country may like to visit my newly created blog

In Bengal, the brutal way in which more than 750 Balmiki families were dislocated from
Bellilius park under the builder mafia of CPM and in disguise of the court injunctions,
can put to shame even Delhi’s irresponsible Congress government against whom Ms
Brinda Karath and other CPM leaders regularly lodge protest. Rightly, I have no
hesitation in saying that we all support AIDWA and its campaign for the rights of the
slum dwellers and Dalits in Delhi and other parts of the country. But why not the same
about your own government and your own party under whose noose such thing happened
in West Bengal.

Last year, when I visited Kolkata and met a number of Balmikis, Hailas, Mehtars, all of
them lodged their complained how the CPM’s cadre threaten them. The bustees are being
threatened and CPM leader protests only on those areas where the Bengalis are under the
threat and that too if it is a central government projects that dislocate people like the
Railways. The party is simply not bothered about other communities from the North

It was such a disgusting scenario that a women from scavenging community living in a
virtual hell at Belgachia’s Bagad area said that these Bengalis called us when they need
to clean their shit and now they are not interested in us when they made their flush toilets.

In places like Howarah scavenging is still officially practiced. Whatever argument the
Minister give, it is a shame that people under the municipal corporation did work as
manual scavenger and they were named such as ‘ New Resident Mehtars’. Mehtars had
objected that they were one of the communities involved in scavenging and not all
scavengers are Mehtars but in Bengal’s official gazettes, all scavengers are termed as
Mehtars. The Minister may further boast that they are appointing the Bengali Bhadralok
also for the Safai jobs these days but the fact is that the manual scavenging, cleaning
nightsoil, cleaning toilets, the roads etc are still carried out by these scavenger
communities from UP, Haryana, Delhi, and Bihar. The fact of the matter is that it is very
difficult for the people from these communities go get promotion in the municipality
while a Bhadralok Bengali who joins as a sweeper on paper soon become a babu. That is
a new way to enroll CPM cadre into the Babudome of West Bengal. It works both way.
On papers, it shows how radically the communist government has transformed West
Bengal by saying that they are now recruiting the upper castes also for the menial jobs
such as sweeping and on the other side they keep their cadres also happy who becomes
babu very soon. Many of the Balmikis who had been working in West Bengal for years
have not got due promotion.

The officials are not even interested in resolving the issues of the poor Balmikis. Their
children cannot get a job in West Bengal for they are asked to bring the domiciles of
their parents. For years they have been working in West Bengal and now they ask for
domiciles of their parents. What is the fault of the children who were born in Bengal.

Even today, the CPM’s cadre takes a vigil on all the ‘unwanted elements’ like us to
report. There is manual scavenging still prevalent in Howrah, Bengal’s connections to
rest of India. It is not far away in remote Bengal but very heart of Kolkata that
scavenging is practiced. It is difficult to get a Video footage since the CPM’s goons will
break your cameras once they realize that you are there for a human rights cause. I have
footage of West Bengal and the scavenging community. The only footage I could not get
was of the people involved in night soil because the area was a CPM’s stronghold. Our
people in West Bengal were frightened that CPM’s cadre may take revenge from them if
they found that some of them were responsible for the leak.

CPM’s tyrannical rule in Bengal is making it a closed door society. Giving a clean chit to
Bengal and its pathetic record on Elimination of scavenging and rehabilitation of
scavengers is a bigger shame for Frontline magazine. I am sure the Magazine would ask
the Bengal Chief Minister where are the Balmikis of Bellillus Park in Howarah. If they
do not have any information, I am ready to provide them all details. But please do not
compromise with people’s cause. Balmikis of West Bengal will not get justice from an
insensitive government. Those who create a fascinating world of ‘great’ social cohesion
outside West Bengal should try to sneak into the den and report independently on the
conditions of Dalit in West Bengal. Hiding the pathetic condition of Dalits in West
Bengal and particularly that of the scavengers is the bigger shame for India.


Blogger mynameisnobody said...

The practice of manual scavenging shows the highly evolved spiritual nature of Hindu religion.

4:27 AM  

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